July 2 (UPI) — A dozen teenage soccer players and their coach, who’d been trapped for nine days deep in a Thailand cave, were found alive Monday, officials said.
Authorities said all 13 members of the Wild Boar team are safe after the days-long search and rescue operation in the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai.
“Thai Navy SEALS have found all 13 with signs of life,” Gov. Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters, speaking about the divers that had spearheaded the search.
Osottanakorn said although the boys were safe, the mission wouldn’t be over until they were all safely brought out of the cave.
“Our mission is to search, rescue and return,” he said. “So far we just found them. Next mission is to bring them out from the cave and send them home.”
The missing boys, ages 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach had been missing in the caves since June 23. They went into the caves for an excursion but were stranded by heavy rains and flooding.
Ekkapol Janthawong, the group’s coach, occasionally took the group on day trips. They went to the same cave two years ago.
Thai Navy SEAL divers had gone several miles into the cave complex after using pumps to reduce the water level, which allowed them to place guide ropes and air tanks along the route.
Rescuers believed the team was stuck in a deep chamber of the cave, known as Pattaya Beach.
U.S. military rescuers arrived at the site last week with three British cave experts to help in the search. Experts from China and Australia also responded.